GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Rodney Savage learned early in his grandmother’s garden how access to good food — and the lack of it — had a direct affect the overall health of the community.

“I grew up snapping peas and I grew up helping her pick out fresh food and vegetables from the garden,” Savage recalled. “We had a lot of love, a lot of laughter, but many times there may not have been enough. Enough to go around.”

Today, as director of diversity, equity and inclusion for the nonprofit Kids’ Food Basket, Savage leans on the humble lessons that garden in Muskegon Heights taught him. He sees it as an opportunity to come full circle, looking for solutions to childhood hunger in West Michigan communities just like his hardscrabble hometown.

“You don’t know when you’re 9 years old, 10 years old, growing up what journey your life is going to take you on,” he said. “But to be able to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, to be able to come back and serve my community makes me sleep better at night regardless if anyone notices or not.”

That recognition can be found in the growing need. When it was founded, Kids’ Food Basket served 125 kids in Kent County. Twenty years later, it serves some 10,000 meals to 60 schools in four West Michigan counties.

Savage says the concept of providing “sack suppers,” a bagged meal containing a healthy protein, fruit and vegetables, is an opportunity to introduce healthy alternatives and ultimately a nutritional foundation.

In his position, Savage facilitated a series of focus groups and community listening sessions to emphasize the fundamental role of nutrition.

“You’re dealing with behavioral issues, all sorts of issues, when your body and brain don’t get the nourishment it needs to grow,” Savage said.

In 2020, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer created the Food Security Council to look into food insecurity in the state. The advisory group submitted its findings to the governor in a report last year. The report indicated that some 1.9 million Michiganders faced food insecurity, more than 552,000 of them children.

“It’s not political. It’s not political at all. It’s a moral issue of what’s right,” Savage insisted, “of making room and making space for everyone, making sure everyone feels seen and everyone feels heard, that everyone feels value in this great country that we live in.”

With a mission to create continued opportunities for our next generations, Savage says it’s his goal to continue tending to those old lessons learned in the garden — nourishing neighborhoods without access and opening up opportunities within his own community — and waiting for the good results to grow.